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Clemson reports driest 10-month span in 120 years

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An agriculture meteorologist reports the driest January through October on record in the Clemson area.

For 120 years rainfall totals have been recorded at LaMaster Dairy Center at Clemson University. Dale Linvill, a Clemson University emeritus professor and meteorologist, said only 25.93 inches of rain fell on LaMaster Dairy Center, where the Clemson gauges that provide rainfall amounts to the National Weather Service are located. Dating back to mid-1896, this represents the lowest January-October stretch of rainfall that has ever been recorded for this area, according to a news release.

“This is really, really low — the lowest on record in all those years,” Linvill said in the release. “In this calendar year, we’re down 18 inches from our typical yearly average of about 53 inches, which is lower than we’ve ever been before. Assuming we get no more rain through the end of October, this 10-month stretch will set the benchmark.”

Here’s how 2016 ranks with other years, when comparing January-October only:

2016 – 25.93 inches

1981 – 26.66 inches

1925 – 27.44 inches

2007 – 27.86 inches

1941 – 28.39 inches

According to Clemson, the driest full calendar year was 1925, when the area had 34.31 inches of rain, down almost 19 inches from average. With the outlook for wintertime rains resuming in mid-November, 2016 will come close to breaking the 1925. Regardless, it will go down as one of the driest years on record. As a point of reference, the wettest year was 2013 at 80.86 inches, up more than 27 inches from average.

Extremely dry conditions plagued Upstate South Carolina starting in late May of this year and then crept down into the middle of the state in early July, the release said. The Upstate also received virtually no rain from Hurricane Matthew, which inundated portions of the state on and near the coast with up to 15 inches of rain. To put that in perspective, the most severely hit areas received only 11 inches less rain in about a 24-hour period than Clemson has received in the past 7,000-plus hours, according to the release.

“From an agriculture standpoint, the biggest problem we had here in the Upstate is that we grow crops on the top two and a half feet of soil. And when water fills the soil, about three inches of water are available for plants to use,” Linvill said in the release. “So when half or more of that water disappears because of drought, unirrigated plants start to show signs of stress. We had a spell from June through August where there were 71 straight days when the soil moisture was less than 50%. Then we had a big rain that temporarily took it back up. But this was followed by another 56-day stretch of less than 50%. We even had 27 days this summer when the soil moisture was less than 30%, which can devastate crops.”

Linvill said groundwater levels are still good, so if rain does come, the outlook for the Upstate will be “a lot brighter than it is now.”

“Winter months are typically rainy, because a series of cold fronts from the north set off showers down here. And man, do we need that rain,” he said. “We’ve suffered through the driest 10-month stretch on record, and it’s time for Mother Nature to put a stop to it.”

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